Students have ability to catch up: expert

A New Zealand education expert has allayed fears among Samoan parents that the disruption to their children’s education due to the measles outbreak and the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic will have a long-term impact on their learning.

Professor Peter John O'Connor, an academic with the University of Auckland's Critical Studies in Education and the Faculty of Education and Social Work, told the Samoa Observer in an interview that from his experience children affected by a disaster are able to catch up on lessons lost and even do better in assessment. 

“In my experience of time lost by children in schools as a result of disasters is that that time can be quite quickly caught up,” he said. 

As an example, he used the deadly 2012 earthquake in Christchurch which had some 186 casualties and led to the closure of schools. However, the examination results of that year showed that the students did not drop in their performance. 

“In fact in the senior level of that year, seniors did better that year than they had the previous year and we’ve wondered about why that is,” he said. “And we think actually that the important shift and change that happened in schools was that they focused on students’ wellbeing.

“So rather than focusing on results, they focused on making sure that children were happy, safe and cared for at school. And that was really important about children feeling better about themselves, and when children do better about themselves, they actually do better academically as well.” 

Professor O'Connor said parents should not worry about the lost time in classrooms, and emphasised that it is important to work with teachers to “catch up with each other, rather than catching up on work.”

Providing comfort and love to the children in these challenging times is also important, according to the academic.

"I’d imagine your economy is going to suffer as ours and that causes all sorts of stresses in our families. The importance of love and care in a family in terms of what that means for children,” he added. “You cannot overstate the [importance of] love and care a parent has for their child and at difficult times, and these are difficult times for all of us, it becomes more important that children are loved and cared for (regardless of their academic performance).”

The National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) Vice-Chancellor, Aiono Alec Ekeroma, said the campus’ closure brought on by COVID-19 allowed students to learn to adapt to a new way of learning and for lecturers to provide online support during and outside normal working hours.

He said the impact of the recent closures will only be known after the results from the student examinations are known.

“We will find out in the next three to four weeks how the students have performed in their exams. Only then will we know the degree of impact the pandemic precautions have affected the students’ academic performance,” he said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

All primary and secondary schools and colleges are expected to resume normal classes next Monday, according to a public notice by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.). All educational institutions are expected to enforce a two-metre social distancing requirement when classes are underway Monday to Friday.

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